Year B Palm Sunday 13/4/03 John 12:12-16
12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, "Hosanna!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Blessed is the King of Israel!" 14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written, 15 "Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey's colt." 16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him.
Since the wheel was invented people's mode of transport has reflected something about the person being transported. A few months back there was a television series about people who pretended that they were something that they were not. One of these featured a man who wore expensive clothing and drove an old Rolls Royce. But he was a plumber and lived in a council house!
Jesus is travelling the last few miles into Jerusalem. He had walked with thousands of fellow Jews the 65 miles or so from Galilee. As he nears Bethphage he decides to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. Unlike the plumber he was not trying to fool anyone. But he was telling the crowds something about who he is. The Messiah, the anointed one sent by God.
Zechariah 9:9 foretells the coming of the Messiah :
"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, daughter of Jerusalem: See your King comes to you, righteous and having salvation; gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt the foal of a donkey." John who was writing for Jews who were brought up knowing the O.T. quotes some of this verse. cf verse 15.
This is the first public disclosure by Jesus of who he is. The Jewish leaders could not cope with this, and had him crucified five days later. They were jealous of the attention that he was getting, as we read in verse 16. This popularity would have been fuelled by the raising from the dead of Lazarus, recorded by John in Chapter 11. They were also concerned that the popular support for Jesus would jeopardise their position under the Romans. We read of this in Chapter 11:45ff which shows that the Pharisees wanted to kill Jesus.
There is a sense that it is not until Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey that he nails his colours to the mast.
Every part of Zachariah 9:9 is fulfilled by Jesus. This was written some 550 years before Jesus rode into Jerusalem :
"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, daughter of Jerusalem" the rejoicing and shouting are fulfilled as the crowds welcome Jesus.
"See your King comes to you" : Jesus is King, ruler of the universe, not just King of the Jews.
"righteous and having salvation" : Jesus is just or righteous. He is perfect and therefore can present himself as a perfect sacrifice for the sin of the world. This is the salvation he offers. Saving us from the effects of sin. In the way that it can control our lives, and in the way that it separates us from God. We celebrate and proclaim that salvation as we receive the bread and wine.
"gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt the foal of a donkey." Jesus was humble. In leaving the glory of heaven to come to earth. In coming from Nazareth in Galilee, a place despised by the Jews. Remember Nathaniel saying, "Nazareth, can anything good come from there ?" ( Jn. 1:46 ) . In going obediently to death on a cross. A place of pain and humiliation.
The crowd did not understand that Jesus was not going to fulfil their expectations. They thought that as the Messiah he was going to come on a war horse, defeat the Romans in battle, and establish an everlasting, prosperous, earthly kingdom of the type that King David had ruled over. READ verse 34. 34 The crowd spoke up, "We have heard from the Law that the Christ will remain forever, so how can you say, `The Son of Man must be lifted up'? Who is this `Son of Man'?"
But Jesus came in peace. A donkey colt was ridden by Kings at a time of peace. Jesus brings peace. Peace between people and God. Peace between individuals.
Jesus doesn't answer their question directly. He compares himself to a light which is to be extinguished soon. They had little time to work out their response to him in order that they might know where they were going. Light enables us to see where we are going and feel secure. Those who are in the dark don't know where they are going. Stumble around confused and uncertain. Sadly we read in verse 37 that the crowd, the people who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem would not trust in him. 37 Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. These people had seen Jesus' miracles and heard his teaching, yet they still did not trust in him.
Even the disciples did not appreciate the significance of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem until later, as we read in verse 16.
As they celebrated that first Palm Sunday the disciples and the crowd did not fully understand who they were welcoming, and what he had come to do. As we come to worship and celebrate the Lord Jesus today we can do this with the excitement and joy of that first Palm Sunday, but with the full knowledge of who Jesus is, and what he has done for us in his death and resurrection.
I once had a conversation with someone who knew a Christian who had died a slow, painful death. This person asked why God could allow such a thing to happen to someone who was a Christian? I said that Christianity is not like a good luck charm that wards off everything that is difficult. Otherwise it would not involve faith and everyone would be a Christian for their own selfish motives. But I pointed out God had helped that person and given them strength and comfort in their pain.
As God made man Jesus was entitled to receive all glory and honour, but first he came in humility, in weakness, in peace, and endured injustice, suffering and death.
The greatest injustice ever was that Jesus was crucified. But in going to the cross voluntarily to take the punishment for the sin of everyone, Jesus accomplished the greatest act of justice that the world has known. Justice and love meet in the cross of Jesus.
Jesus was not looking forward to the cross. But he was determined to follow God the father's way for him, which was to lead him there. We see this from verse 27 "Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? `Father, save me from this hour'? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name!" .
These comments of Jesus came after his disciples had been asked by some Greeks, "We would like to see Jesus", verse 21. It is as if Jesus is saying, "If you want to see me and know what I am really like, then see me on the cross." This shows us the glory of God. The glory, or self-disclosure of God through Jesus came not in bright lights and golden splendour, but in the pain and humiliation of the cross.
As well as looking to the cross, Jesus looks beyond the cross to the blessings that it will bring to many. 24 I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Jesus is the seed that dies having been sown in the cold ground. It then sprouts to produce a large crop. His death has brought about and will bring salvation for millions of people throughout human history.
25 The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
Jesus challenges people to make a choice. To put themselves first, or God... It is about accepting Jesus and serving him. We recognise a servant because he or she serves. We recognise a follower of Jesus because he or she does God's will. The acceptance of him as personal Lord and Saviour is essential for someone's salvation. It is no use saying that you believe that Jesus existed, saying that he is the Son of God unless it intrudes upon your life. It affects the way you live. Not just on a Sunday but all of the week. Not just in a Church Building, but everywhere.
Judy Simpson a former Olympic heptathlete, also known as 'Nightshade' on 'The Gadiators' T.V. programme is a Christian. She said, "I am a Christian because I don't believe I could be the best I can be without Jesus. If you say to yourself, 'I want to be the best ever person and want to earn loads of money', that's fine ! But I don't believe that actually makes you a very good and whole person. I have found that because I believe Jesus claims and everything I do is to give him glory, I actually perform better trying to do the other things. And even if the things don't happen, I can cope with those disappointments better. I don't think I could do half the things with the confidence I do if I wasn't a Christian.'
So being a Christian has given Judy a reason to live, bringing glory to God. A better life with God's help and security.
As followers of Jesus we have to come in humility, obedience and peace and endure rejection, injustice and pain before the glory that awaits us. A glory that will be revealed when Jesus returns. When Jesus does return it will not be on a donkey entering an earthy city but coming on the clouds with power and glory for everyone to see. Then Jesus will gather up all who follow him.
What can we take from this passage today, Palm Sunday 2003 ?
A chance to celebrate. In the full knowledge of who Jesus is, and what he has done for us.
A choice to make. Are we to wholeheartedly follow this Jesus ? To walk in his light. Obeying his teaching and living for him. This will lead to suffering and rejection. But it will also lead to the glory of being with God and with fellow believers in eternity.
Prayer of Francis of Assisi :
Most high, glorious Jesus,
enlighten the darkness of my heart.
Give me, my King,
a correct faith, a sure hope, and a perfect love.
And so may I carry out your holy and true commands. Amen.